DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There may not have been much controversy during Thursday night’s Gander RV Duels at Daytona Int’l Speedway, but the one incident that did take place sparked some interesting conversation.
Contact between Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson just before halfway in the first 60-lap Duel sent Busch spinning down the backstretch and out of contention for a top starting position in the Daytona 500.
It also led to some fiery conversation from Busch, both on his team radio and again after the race.
“Tell the 48 to use his damn eyeballs!” Busch told his crew after limping back to the pits with a flat right-front tire. “That’s twice in two races he’s done the exact same thing.”
Busch was equally blunt after climbing from his No. 18 Toyota about his view on the incident.
“He ran into me,” the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion said. “Watch the television.”
For his part, Johnson took full responsibility for the contact and was heavily contrite after finishing eighth in the first Duel, explaining in detail what happened on the backstretch between he and Busch.
“We were three-wide coming through the turn, and I’m looking out the windshield, my rear view mirror and my third mirror trying to judge if the line is going to follow me or if the line is going to follow Kyle (Busch) … and where the third car is at the same time,” Johnson noted. “In that whole environment, I was wanting to get back in behind Kyle, and I think my eyes were in the wrong spot, so I didn’t have a good sense of perception of where I was with Kyle – trying to manage my mirrors – and I just got it wrong. I thought I knew where I was with the right-front (tire) and I just had it wrong.
“Unfortunately, my mistake turned him around, and I feel bad about that,” Johnson added. “My apologies to he and his team, because I know that is not what they wanted with their (Daytona) 500 car. Like I said, I just got it wrong there.”
Thursday night marked the second time in two Speedweeks races that Johnson was involved in an on-track incident in the draft. He made similar contact with Paul Menard during last weekend’s Advance Auto Parts Clash that turned Menard into the pack and triggered a 17-car pileup at the end of the race.
Johnson hung on to win the Clash, but did not have a winning outcome in his Duel. However, he was quick to emphasize that he didn’t believe the two instances of contact were similar at all.
“I firmly believe the Clash was a racing incident,” Johnson stressed. “This one was a mistake on my behalf … and everybody makes mistakes.”
Busch wasn’t ready to accept Johnson’s apology, however, after he was relegated to 31st in the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“I’m not having any of it,” said Busch. “He needs to use his eyes.”